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4 Studying Tips for the NPTE & My Personal NPTE Studying Timeline

Studying for the NPTE can be incredibly stressful, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s completely possible to create a good study-life balance and have time to de-stress. You’ve had practice for the last 2.5 to 3 years.

In this post, I’ll share some tips for managing a busy schedule, followed by my study plan for the NPTE.

1. Take your first NPTE practice test a few months before your test day

This will help you create a plan for managing your time. You need to know your baseline for NPTE textbook knowledge, as well as how comfortable you feel with your test-taking skills. Then you can more easily decide how many tests you’ll want to take, how long you’ll want to study, and if you might want extra organization / guidance with NPTE courses or tutors.

I’ve made a post including all the practice exams available, as well as a review of Scorebuilders vs TherapyEd books and exams. I recommend starting with a Scorebuilders or TherapyEd exam, and saving the PEAT exams for the end of your studying.

2. Find an accountability partner

Creating and following a study plan is really challenging to do. From personal experience, I love to plan and organize, however I struggle with actually following through with what I planned to do. If you have a busy schedule, you might feel like it’s impossible to create a good study plan around clinicals, classes, work, volunteering, socializing, and your personal hobbies.

Do your best to make sure you have some sort of plan, and tell this plan to SOMEONE. It doesn’t have to be another classmate, but it could be your friends, family, or a new SPT study buddy you found online. I often chatted with my classmates a few times a week to see how their studying was going, and that helped motivate me to try a little harder when I REALLY didn’t feel like studying anymore. Make sure your accountability partner will check on you 1-2x/week if you struggle with regularly reaching out to them.

3. Take plenty of downtime for yourself

I know, its easier said than done.

However, I don’t think it’s realistic to spend all your spare time devoted to studying for the NPTE. You just finished a majority of your PT student duties. You’ve passed all your classes, and a majority, if not all, of your clinical placements. Take some time to celebrate, socialize with friends and family, and return to some hobbies you may have neglected over the past few years. Find a way to stay active, and stick with it. Take a vacation or two, if possible. Take a walk outside every day.

It’s really okay for your NPTE books to gather some dust. Just try to not feel guilty when you take much needed time away from studying.

4. Don’t waste too much time on social media trying to find the best ways to pass the NPTE

You’re doing it right now.  

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably spent hours reading through Facebook groups and blogs to find the best and cheapest NPTE resources, the ideal number of weeks / hours to study, and the best number of practice tests to take. You really don’t need to feel guilty when you check social media and feel that your classmates are studying more than you are. 

You’re not going to find a 100% sure-fire way to pass the NPTE. You’re not going to find a secret study tip that will blow your mind and allow you to study 80% less than you usually do. You probably won’t find a way to stop stressing out about the test. You won’t find the perfect study schedule that works for you. 

I truly believe that most physical therapy students just study how they studied during PT school, and some need to spend more time studying than others. Some students can pass the NPTE with 12 hours of studying, and others need several months or need to take the NPTE several times to pass. Everyone studies differently, and you probably already know how to best study for yourself.

Just do your best. Don’t overthink things. Study how you normally do, and don’t stress if you’re studying differently than other people.  

You’re going to be fine!  

My NPTE Studying Timeline

This is an overview of how I studied while juggling my last clinical, graduating PT school, driving cross country, attending one conference, and going on 2 vacations.

This information probably isn’t useful for you to read, but I just wanted to show that not everyone needs a detailed study plan, and not everyone needs to study every single day. It’s okay to take a week off of studying if you need it, and if you feel like you won’t run out of time to finish preparing.


August 2018

I took Test #1 (TherapyEd test A) on August 1st before beginning studying, so I got a better idea of how early I needed to begin studying. I did pretty well on the test and was feeling confident, so I did not begin studying until the last week of August, after my last PT school clinical was finished.

This gave me about 9 weeks of time until the NPTE. I created a schedule of practice tests based on when I would have enough time to sit down and take each test, and tried to evenly space them out. Then I added in general topics that I wanted to study each week, starting with a week of studying Musculoskeletal, followed by a week of Neuro, then Cardiopulm, and then the smaller sections. I attempted to plan exactly when and what I would study for throughout the entire 9 weeks, however I already messed up my detailed study plan about 1.5 weeks.

Instead, I just studied as much as I felt like each day, which was maybe around 4-6 hours. I also took a lot of days off, or maybe only studied 1-2 hours each day if I was really stressed out and needed to chill out for a while instead. Some days I didn’t want to focus on a specific topic, and just did flashcards or random test questions. Other days I could devote 8 hours (with lots of breaks!) to studying Neuro and not get bored. After a month of avoiding cardiopulm, I started to get stressed a little and decided to focus on that for a few days.

Not following a specific plan worked the best for me, and allowed me to work around my busy schedule and accommodate for new plans as they came up.

September 2018

I was beginning to get stressed out, because I knew that the majority of September was going to be completely busy, and I had barely scratched the surface on my NPTE textbooks. I created a few flashcard sets on Quizlet, so I would be able to study while traveling.

TravCon Trip: I brought only a small duffel bag to Las Vegas, which meant that I wasn’t able to bring my heavy textbooks. Instead, I took a few photos of the cardiopulmonary section of TherapyEd, and read those photos on my laptop the plane to Vegas. I was so busy during the conference (and wanted to have fun!) that I stopped studying as soon as I stepped off the plane.

Graduation Trip: This vacation was with my family members, so I was able to study around 30-60 minutes per day. I used flashcards while on public transportation, and I read a bit of my textbook in the evenings.

Cross Country Road Trip: I listened to the entire NPTE Clinical Files and NPTE Studycast while driving. I had around 4-5 days when I wasn’t driving at all, so I managed to study a few hours on those days. I also stayed with one of my classmates for a few days, so I was able to set aside enough time to take practice test #2 (TherapyEd test B).

October 2018

I began to get a little stressed out at this point, because I knew I only had 3 weeks left before the NPTE. I began to focus on other systems and non-systems sections because I hadn’t touched them at all. I was invited to a last-minute camping trip to Zion National Park, and decided to take a break from studying. I felt good enough about my studying, and didn’t want to miss out on visiting a park I had never been to!

I took Test #3 (the practice PEAT exam) before I left for my camping trip, which definitely increased my confidence. I was able to relax during my camping trip and didn’t bring any study materials.

After I returned from the trip, I focused on reviewing what I had already learned from the textbooks and focused on the subjects that I felt like I struggled with the most (other systems and cardiopulmonary).

I took Test #4 (the retired PEAT exam), which also made me feel pretty prepared for the NPTE. I liked taking it about 5 days before the actual test, because it gave me another confidence boost, and kept me motivated to keep reviewing for the test over the next couple days. I don’t necessarily recommend taking the PEAT so soon before the actual NPTE, though.

I was getting really tired of looking at my flashcards and the textbooks, so I just practiced by working my way through Test #5 (TherapyEd practice test C). Instead of taking it online in one sitting, I decided to answer each question and then checked the answer, one-by one. Completing the test with a ton of breaks kept me a bit motivated to continue studying in little chunks, because I really didn’t want to study or take another practice test for hours at a time.

I stopped studying the night before the NPTE. I could have probably stopped studying earlier, but it made me feel better to study right until the last test day.

Do you have any tips for tackling the NPTE? Please share below!

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